Op-Ed: Alleged Corruption by Wagner Doesn't Pass "The Duck Test"

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By Josh Quintana, resident of Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Police Department Public Information Officer Anthony J. Wagner was placed on temporary paid leave pending an investigation earlier this month in response to corruption allegations made in a Los Angeles Magazine article

While there is speculation to the validity of the article’s claims, and for fair reasons, it is also fair to say that previously serving as the executive director of the Southern California Responsible Growers Council, what I would characterize as a cannabis industry lobbyist group, a group that represents over 80 members in the Southern California region, poses a direct conflict of interest for Wagner when it comes to him being involved in cannabis-related government-made decisions in Santa Barbara.

I would hope at the very least, as a high-ranking city official, Wagner would have done the ethical thing and highlighted his relationship with the council and removed himself from the potential conflict of interest in his city role, as well as in the process of awarding retail cannabis permits. Santa Barbara residents, and certainly the city council and police department, should be asking why these steps were not taken. And now it seems that they are.

In the beginning of 2017, right before officially starting his role with the City of Santa Barbara, when he was serving as the Executive Director of the Southern California Responsible Growers Council, Wagner said: “We started the Responsible Growers Council because we want people to know who we are, what we do, and what benefits we can bring in terms of new tax revenues and especially more jobs. Across the state, the agricultural side of the cannabis industry is evolving fast. Our members want to grow their crops legally and in a way that is acceptable and beneficial to communities.”

Micah Anderson, who was President of the Southern California Responsible Growers Council during the same time Wagner served as its Executive Director, has also been involved with seeking permits to open cannabis dispensaries in the region. Anderson was listed as the 50 percent owner of a 2019 Golden State Greens venture in Pasadena, per the application filed with the city. The other 50 percent owner listed on the application in Pasadena with Anderson was Adam Knopf, owner and CEO Golden State Greens, who listed himself as the owner of 3516 State Street location that was awarded as one of only three cannabis dispensary permits that were allotted by the City of Santa Barbara. Seemingly without any intent to actually open a cannabis dispensary in Santa Barbara, Knopf turned around and sold the license for a profit estimated between $7-11 million. Did this connection to Anderson and Wagner afford Knopf the opportunity to secure this payout? Was there a payoff involved? Keep reading…

Due to their past industry specific related experiences, I feel it is easy to assume that the relationships between these three men most likely existed prior to the license being issued and then sold for profit in Santa Barbara, which poised no ethical questions until Mr. Wagner was involved in the issuing of cannabis retail permits. The Pasadena application filed by Anderson and Knopf was submitted five months after Knopf was awarded the permit by the city of Santa Barbara, where Wagner then served as the City Information Officer and has been widely reported as the point person for the cannabis permit process. In my opinion it's easy to draw the conclusion that there were multiple months, if not years of discussions and planning regarding the partnership leading up the submission of the 96-page application and business plan for the Pasadena store.

However, the biggest red flag, or “smoking gun” as some call it, is that Wagner filed an LLC. (WAGNER & ASSOCIATES, INC.) in the state of California with one manager (himself) on 11/23/2016, four months before his official start date with the City of Santa Barbara (per his LinkedIn page), and right around the same time the cannabis permitting process began according to Santa Barbara City Administrator Paul Casey. Then just four months after the three cannabis permits were awarded in the city of Santa Barbara, Anthony Wagner filed to cancel his LLC on 10/18/2019. Furthermore, upon a search of public records into Wagner & Associates LLC paperwork, the address listed is in San Diego.

Lastly, the City of Santa Barbara is quick to point out that they have spent $101,425.00 in litigation cost, and then eventually won the case regarding the matter with SGSB. While this is a true statement, it is not the entire truth. Because what was litigated by the city was the disqualification of SGSB, who was ranked in 2nd place in the scoring process, behind Coastal Dispensary, and in front of The Farmacy due to proximity of their selected retail location being less than 1000ft from the retail location selected by Coastal Dispensary (which a quick measure on Google Earth based off walking distance from door to door yielded 1024 feet). This cause for disqualification is what allowed Golden Greens to secure the 3rd, and final spot in the city’s archaic selection and scoring process. So, while litigation did take place, and the city did prevail, the context of what it is currently being investigated vs. the context of the ligation that has already transpired, and referenced by the city, are two totally different arguments and accusations.

Now either this is all a very inconvenient coincidence for Wagner and Casey, or maybe something more. But we must also remember that everyone deserves the right to due process, the ability to defend themselves and to answer the questions regarding the accusations that are being brought against them. 

So now we must wait and allow the new Police Chief the time to conduct a proper, fair and transparent investigation. But one must ask themselves; If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, then it must be……. Continued.

Do you have an opinion on something local? Share it with us at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed in Op-Ed articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of edhat.

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sacjon Mar 22, 2021 05:46 PM
Op-Ed: Alleged Corruption by Wagner Doesn't Pass "The Duck Test"

COAST - ALL industry and business go hand in hand with greed. It's called capitalism. What about oil and politics? Timber and politics? Coal and politics? Pharmaceuticals and politics? Tobacco and politics? Yeah, the "evil" weed industry is somehow unique to greed...... smh.

Rinconer Mar 23, 2021 07:40 AM
Op-Ed: Alleged Corruption by Wagner Doesn't Pass "The Duck Test"

Many qualified local entrepreneurs apply for a license, but instead the license is given preferential treatment to a “vendor” who immediately sells the license for nearly $10 million to a Floridian. What have you got against locals?

a-1616515350 Mar 23, 2021 09:02 AM
Op-Ed: Alleged Corruption by Wagner Doesn't Pass "The Duck Test"

Nick Welsh's statements in the 2018 Independent story, when he said, "Anthony Wagner of the Santa Barbara Police Department — a key player in the selection process" vs his and the city's latest story, trying to make Wagner a bit player in this, that is quite the about-face. The 3 way friendship from San Diego, and an interesting paper trail mean there is more to look at here. Why is the City Manager allowed to make a unilateral decision to skip the next applicant in line, who was only 3 points behind, to hand the license to a San Diego firm, who promptly sold it to a Florida firm, for millions?

PitMix Mar 23, 2021 10:56 AM
Op-Ed: Alleged Corruption by Wagner Doesn't Pass "The Duck Test"

This is the kind of thing our local reporters should be doing instead of contacting a suspect and printing his statements as the truth in their story about him. Will never look at a Nick Welsh column the same way ever again.

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